Archives for July 2008

Our Compost Pile Is Up

Dad bought us some wooden stakes and some chicken fencing at a hardware store yesterday, so we could finally take the pile of grass clippings in our yard and turn it into a real compost pile. Our city doesn’t accept grass clippings in the weekly garbage pick-up, but we can take them to the city compost pile for free. Rather than deal with wet grass clippings in our car, we decided to just start our own pile, and in turn have some fertilizer for our plants next year. It’s nothing too exciting, but it is one of the first things I have built for our home. Mind you, it is very, very, simple, and not too pretty to look at, but as I told Jennifer, “relax, we’re building a pen for waste…how nice does it have to look?” I happen to have a few “Do-It-Yourself” type books on my wishlist at Amazon, so I can maybe try my hand at fixing/making a few things in the future. I’ll be honest, being a homeowner has already been changing me…I never understood until now why my dad actually gets a real thrill from looking at, buying, and using tools! Anybody else feel this way?

So why compost? Well, besides providing fertilizer for next year’s plants, composting helps keep waste management costs down because compostable materials don’t end up in landfills, filled in garbage bags made of plastic. If enough people composted there would be fewer garbage trucks on the road, saving oil and gasoline.

Change #10: Expand Your Diet and Substitute

The problem most people have with weight gain is that much of the food we are raised on–and consequently like, especially “treats” that become normal food–is unhealthy. Yet, we crave it and eat it, many times not in moderation. Some foods are not too good even in “moderation.” The key is to learn to like new foods and to substitute healthier foods in place of unhealthy ones, especially in recipes. This isn’t always easy at first, but creativity and good preparation of the food are key. Very few people are going to prefer a piece of boiled chicken to a juicy steak, but a grilled chicken breast with lemon and asparagus would be getting close.

In many cases, substituting could save you hundreds of calories in a day. Let me give you an example. If a person who ate a hamburger with mayonnaise and deep fried french fries with a large Coke for lunch, he or she would be consuming 450 calories for the burger (1/4 pound), 100 calories for the mayo, 200 calories for the fries, and 300 calories for the coke. This adds up to 1,050 calories. Now, let’s substitute a little, trying a ground turkey burger on light bread with light mayonnaise, baked french fries, and a large unsweetened iced tea. The new numbers? 270 calories for the sandwich, 35 calories for the light mayonnaise, 115 calories for the french fries, and about 5 calories for the tea. These add up to 425 calories. And, if prepared right, the substituted meal can taste just as or nearly as good as the original.

Here are a few examples of items I’ve changed or substituted in my journey from fat to fit:

Ground Turkey for Beef
Vegetable Lasagna for Meat Lasagna
Whole Wheat Pasta for Regular Pasta
Chicken Breasts for Various Fatty Meats
Sliced Turkey Breast for Ham
Lentil Soup for Various High Calorie Soups
Sugar Free Drinks for Fruit Juices
Sugar Free Desserts for Regular Desserts
Baked Fries for Regular Ones
Sugar Free Syrup for Regular Syrup

The list could go on for awhile, so I’ll leave it at that! Please add your own in the comment box.

Image of turkey burgers, cooking with onions/green bean mixture (covered in some salt-substitute, paprika, and pepper) by David

The Basic Math of Losing Weight

Losing weight is somewhat complicated because of metabolism issues, etc, but in the end, weight loss is basic math. Even though it is more complicated than this, basically, 3500 calories is equivalent to one pound of body fat. So, to lose a pound of body fat you must burn 3500 calories more than you eat over a given period of time. In other words, if one day you worked out really hard, let’s say you worked as a construction worker, followed by going to the Y in the evening, and burned 4500 calories, and only consumed 1000 calories that day, you would, in theory lose a pound (but because your calories were so low, your metabolism would soon slow and you would be in danger of burning muscle tissue).

Now, let’s apply this to weight gain. Let’s say you pig out at the all-you-can-eat buffet, and take in 5200 calories that day (this is high, but not impossible for people who go overboard at a buffet), yet you sit all day at work and at home, burning only 1700 calories. You have, in theory, just gained a pound. Trust me, it is far easier to gain the excess 3500 calories, than burn them.

This is where Fitday is helpful (or any other diet tracking software). Fitday has a cool feature that allows you to program in your weight loss goal, and the date for that goal. Then, it calculates how many pounds a week you have to lose to reach that goal. And here comes the cool part. It also tells you how many calories you must restrict each day to meet that goal. Right now for my goal (13 pounds by Labor Day, starting last week), I have to burn 875 more calories than I consume each day to meet my goal. Obviously, it is not just this easy because of other factors like muscle gain, etc, but I find this a very helpful tool for gauging how well I did for the day. This allows me to eat a little more on days when I exercise like crazy, because the goal is based on calorie restriction, not on a set number of calories per day, the latter which is more artificial, because some days we burn more calories and may need to consume a little extra. Below are screenshots of what I am talking about.

In the first image, you can see I have entered into step 5 of the Fitday weight assessment process, in which I can plan out my calorie restriction needed to lose weight. It does the math for  me based on what I set as my weight goals in an earlier step. Click it to make it larger.

In this second image, you can see that I am over the calories Fitday estimates I need to meet my weight goal. However, because I am active, I have burned 1023 more calories than I consumed, which is over the 875 I need restricted to meet my weight goal on time. You can also see that Fitday allows for customized food, and that I even add my supplements. And by the way, yes I am a firm believer in Fitday, and I gladly paid 20 dollars for the software.

[Of note, you can also see some of my eating habits here…like adding cocoa to my coffee, drinking a lot of coffee, taking 1/2 a vitamin E softgel (it isn’t always easy to do that), using fiber powder to make sure I get 30 grams of it a day, making tuna salad with light mayo and honey-roasted nuts, etc. Its not on here (because it is insignificant calorie-wise), but I put cayenne powder in the soup and tuna salad, and on the fries]

Chunky Chicken Noodle…Cheap

This may sound like a weird title, but I try to take savings “to the next level” anytime I can. We try to shop at Aldi, cut coupons, and buy generic as a way to keep grocery expenses way down. However, I always try to save even more if possible. This is how chicken noodle soup comes into the equation.

I had been buying chunky chicken noodle soup, when it was on sale. I usually got it for about $1.50. I don’t like a lot of potatoes and carrots in my soups, so I usually took those out and added my own vegetables, usually an asparagus mix with broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and peas. One day I realized, “why not just buy condensed chicken noodle and add the same vegetables??” So instead of paying $1.50 per can, I pay $.50 or less per can, and add the vegetables I was going to add anyway, which include broccoli, green beans, peas, and (now that we have a garden) fresh greens, like Collards and Romaine lettuce. I sometimes add tomato paste to turn it into a tomato based soup (which adds extra lycopene), and I always add cayenne powder. My wife knows full well that I add cayenne to just about everything. I love the taste. I even put it on my fries (as in, I sprinkle pure cayenne pepper over the fries to coat them).

So if I eat 3 bowls a week, in the course of the year this simple trick saves me $156. $156 buys 39 gallons of gas at current rates.  I suppose I could push the savings more by making my soup from scratch, with a boullion cube, chicken chunks, and pasta, and that is the next step!

Change #9: Strength Training

Although I did the whole lifting weights thing in high school, I’ve always been a reluctant strength trainer as an adult. In many ways the weight lifting part of the gym was very adolescent and I was not comfortable with it. The whole scene didn’t do much for me: blaring heavy metal music, guys with cutoff T-shirts showing their muscles, trying to “max” out without care for form, the feeling that testosterone was in the air. Even when I started my move from fat to fit, at first I focused totally on cardio. I knew that in terms of raw calories burnt and pounds lost, cardio was the way to go. However, it was a bit foolish, kind of like building a beautiful mansion with a rotten foundation. After reading the RealAge book, I re-discovered the importance of strength training. I want to focus on a few of those benefits now.

First, lean muscle burns more calories than fat. So, strength training increases your muscle mass, which increases the rate at which you burn calories. It also helps keep your metabolism up as you age.

Second, strength training gives you something to reveal underneath the weight loss. A person can be skinny and yet look and feel unhealthy. Strength training is one way to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Third, it decreases your chances of injury. I had nagging rotator cuff problems that instantly disappeared after a lifting regimen.

There are, however, a few things to realize about strength training. First, you don’t have to end up looking like a guy or girl on a muscle magazine. Most people lift weights to look more toned, not like bodybuilders with veins sticking out everywhere. Second, you cannot “spot” train fat away. Thus, doing 100 sit-ups will not cause your belly fat to decrease; only diet and exercise (especially cardio) can accomplish that. However, training your abs will make sure that when you do lose the weight, you’ll have something nice underneath the belly fat. Third, weight lifting is no longer just for meatheads. Most mainstream establishments will be filled with average people trying to look and feel better. You will get those people who think that loudly “maxing it out” is the greatest thing in the world, but they will most likely be in the minority. Fourth, remember to challenge yourself so you get stronger, but not overdo it so you get injured. A personal trainer could help find a good balance. Finally, remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so you may actually experience a slight gain or less of a loss when you take up strength training. But, in the end, that toned look is more important than a number on a scale.

What are you waiting for? Get lifting!

Image of bicep curl taken by David

Change #8: Keep Focused

This is a more mental change than anything. Basically, for the past year when I made the transition from fat to fit, I kept totally focused on my goal and my health. I never allowed myself to get off track, to deviate from the basic path. Even when I ate more than I wanted to or skipped the gym, it was always with the mental note that this was a part of the plan: to give myself a small break; the exception, not the rule. This focus lasted through the holidays, the winter doldrums, a new baby, and much more. As long as I kept wanting to be healthy and made it a priority, it was. And, I keep maintaining it a priority and have been successful.

Image taken by David, from a fall hiking trip

Growing Food

Now that Jennifer and I have a house, we are growing a few vegetables in large pots (the pots came free with the house). We got the vegetables, minus the cilantro, for free at a greenhouse that was giving them away in June. We also have a blueberry plant Jennifer ordered online (which she takes on overnight trips with us…parenting practice I guess!). We currently are growing cucumbers, multiple types of tomatoes, habanero peppers, cayenne peppers, romaine lettuce, gourmet lettuce, collards, leeks, onions, cilantro, and, of course, blueberries. Next year we want to expand to include green beans, carrots, garlic, and broccoli, at the very least.

I am not usually into growing plants, although I do like nature. However, I find myself excited about what is growing, and even proud to be helping to feed our family with healthy vegetables, even if it is (at this point) a rather insignificant portion of our food intake. I check on them every morning, and water them if they need it. I remember LutherPunk mentioning on his former blog about seeing the vegetables form, and the excitement that this gave him. I had him in mind when I got the cayenne plants, and I dutifully check every morning to see how long the peppers are. I don’t want to get overly philosophical, but many thinkers believe that man does have a connection with the land. I have heard this expressed by hunters and hippies alike (I know a lot more hunters than hippies though). Where does the Bible place the center of man’s creation, where God himself walked? In a garden! Maybe growing things is really a part of what we were created to be. Philosophy aside, fresh, healthy vegetables make a great addition to our meals, and we have had some interesting vegetable-chicken noodle soups for lunch.

Related to the Garden of Eden, I found this prayer for the farmer (or gardener) that I liked:

O God, Source and Giver of all things, Who manifests Your infinite majesty, power and goodness in the earth about us, we give You honor and glory.

For the sun and rain, for the manifold fruits of our fields, for the increase of our herds and flocks we thank You. For the enrichment of our souls with divine grace, we are grateful.

Supreme Lord of the harvest, graciously accept us and the fruits of our toil, in union with Christ Your Son, as atonement for our sins, for the growth of Your Church, for peace and charity in our homes, for salvation to all. Amen.


The Images are all taken by me. The first and third photos are of our vegetables. The second is a photo of the green cayenne peppers, still growing. The final photo is of marigolds, planted with the tomatoes to keep bugs off them.

Change #7: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Even when I had tried losing weight in the past, it really never included healthy foods as much as low calorie ones. I remember in high school, for example, loading up on pretzels and Snackwells lowfat cookies. When I decided to get my act together last August, it included following the advice of the RealAge doctors and eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

I had never really liked vegetables and preferred other items to fruits, even though I generally liked their taste. I found that it’s really all in how you prepare them. For example, my wife made me vegetable lasagna that was amazing. A great cook at work started making incredible salads that I actually craved, especially one with spinach and strawberries. And, I discovered (from my brother) that adding vegetables to canned soup made a much healthier creation. I also started eating fruit for breakfast and trying to eat an apple at work each day. I have developed a love for berries as well as many different vegetables.

Recently, we decided to avoid canned fruits and vegetables as much as possible and this included going to the local farm market. Not only was it a fun day for the family, but we got a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables at prices competitive with WalMart. I was particularly proud of a peck of green beans I got for 13 dollars. I love green beans (especially with vinegar and garlic) and now I have quite a few to enjoy! We still can’t afford to go organic all the time even though that is a personal goal. Yet, fresh and local are still great! The photo above is one I took at the market.

Change #6: Find Out Your Realage

How we take care of our bodies greatly influences how we look and feel. I saw a guy at the pool the other day who was probably 60, but had a better body than most 20 year olds. If his hair weren’t gray, I’d say he looked about 30. I also saw a women today who was probably 30, but her hands, probably from sun damage, looked about 60. No joke. So, how can we figure out our “real age” based on behaviors and our health histories? At, of course! Developed by Oprah’s doctors Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, the test, which takes about 20 minutes to complete, will tell you how old you really are. In addition, it gives suggestions to look and feel younger. Go ahead and take the test now.

The RealAge book, as well as the website, played an important role in my getting healthier. I am a bit vain and want to look and feel my youngest so I saw the test as a bit of challenge when my realage wasn’t has high as I would’ve liked. The test is concerned primarily with health and not weight loss, but the two go hand in hand. I followed the advice of the docs and lowered my realage by 10 years. It really is a great program and resource that I highly recommend.

Are There Any Good “Work at Home” Opportunities?

As a school teacher, I get a lot of time off, and take it to travel to see family and friends. Jennifer is looking for a part-time job that she would be able to work around my schedule (because she likes to travel as well), and one that she would be able to keep after we have kids. She is considering looking for a part-time job around town, but we thought there has to be a few good opportunities online (or ones that involve work offline, but have information online). It seems like there are a lot of “get rich” type schemes circulating on the internet which I don’t really think work, and we are not interested in that stuff. We are interested primarily in ideas that other wives and mothers have used that have helped generate extra income, but also allowed time for motherly duties, etc.

Does anybody have any ideas or anything that worked for you? Right now, an extra 200-300 dollars a month would be good, so it is not like we would need anything too “high-powered.” Any ideas from mothers would be helpful. Jennifer said Money Saving Mom has posted about it at some point, but we have been too busy  moving to look into much. We will in the future, and we will hopefully share some of our ideas here.